Schematic of active optical control of terahertz waves in electromagnetically induced transparency metamaterials.

Metamaterials provide active control of ‘slow light’ devices

February 12, 2013

LANL researchers and collaborators have made the first demonstration of rapidly switching on and off “slow light” in specially designed metamate­rials at room temperature. Metamaterials are assemblies of multiple individual elements fashioned from conventional microscopic materials arranged in periodic patterns. This work opens the possibility to design novel chip-scale, ultrafast devices for applications in terahertz wireless communications and all-optical computing.

Significance of the research

In slow light, a propagating light pulse is substantially slowed down (compared with the velocity of light in a vacuum). This is accomplished by the interaction with the medium in which the propagation takes place. Slow light has potential applications in telecommunications because it could lead to a more orderly traffic flow in networks. Like cars slowing down or speeding up to negotiate an intersection, packets of information can be better managed if their transmission speed is changeable.

Another potential application is the storage of information carried by light pulses, leading to a potential all-optical computing system. Current semiconductor materials used in computing devices are reaching some of their limits, and an all-optical system would potentially enable improvements in size reduction and calculation speeds. The effects of strong light-matter coupling used in slowing down light might be used to create entangled photon pairs, leading to quantum computing capabilities beyond the capabilities of modern computers.

Read more: Metamaterials provide active control of 'slow light' devices — phys.org.

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